One aspect of Anthony Trollope’s first two books in the Chronicles of Barsetshire series, The Warden and Barchester Towers, is the
shifting and playful point of view that the author presents. Both novels are
written mostly in third-person point of view. However, at times in the
narrative, the prose shifts into first-person. Trollope actually uses at least two
different forms of first-person. Very occasionally, he puts himself into the
story and recounts conversations that he has had with various characters. At
other times, quite often in fact, he actually refers to himself as a novelist
and refers to the story as something that he has created. He also directly addresses
the reader, calling him or her, “reader”.
One of my favorite instances of this occurs in Barchester Towers. The
widowed Eleanor Bold is beginning to be wooed by several men, including the
scheming and manipulative Mr. Slope and the buffoonish and narcissistic Bertie
Stanhope. These attempted courtships become a major narrative thread that
weaves itself around much of the balance of the novel. At this early stage, Trollope
reveals the ultimate outcome,
But let the gentle-hearted reader
be under no apprehension whatsoever. It is not destined that Eleanor shall
marry Mr. Slope or Bertie Stanhope.
Why does Trollope reveal this milestone in the plot so far
advance? The reader has no need to speculate. Trollope explains exactly why he
And here perhaps it may be
allowed to the novelist to explain his views on a very important point in the
art of telling tales. He ventures to reprobate that system which goes so far to
violate all proper confidence between the author and his readers by maintaining
nearly to the end of the third volume a mystery as to the fate of their
favourite personage. Nay, more, and worse than this, is too frequently done. Have not often the
profoundest efforts of genius been used to baffle the aspirations of the
reader, to raise false hopes and false fears, and to give rise to expectations
which are never to be realized? Are not promises all but made of delightful
horrors, in lieu of which the writer produces nothing but most commonplace
realities in his final chapter?
Trollope goes on for several additional paragraphs, explaining why
he eschews this form of literary suspense. He even mentions Ann Radcliffe by
name, as well as several of Jane Austin’s characters, as he playfully
criticizes books that rely too much upon suspense as a plot technique. Within
this digression, he also creates a mini comedy as an example. A loose-lipped girl named Susan reveals vital
plot details to her sibling, Kitty. Susan and Kitty are not characters in the main
narrative. They are just a duo that Trollope creates to make his not so serious
point. After the secret is revealed, he presents us with a dialog between the
"How very ill-natured
you are, Susan," says Kitty with tears in her eyes: "I don't care a
bit about it now."
Trollope next directly addresses Kitty,
Dear Kitty, if you will read my
book, you may defy the ill-nature of your sister. There shall be no secret that
she can tell you. Nay, take the third volume if you please— learn from the last
pages all the results of our troubled story, and the story shall have lost none
of its interest, if indeed there be any interest in it to lose.
I find this marvelously inventive and amusing. I think that
Trollope does succeed in creating a certain intimacy with his readers here. It
is insightful as well as fun the way that he is letting us in a little on the
details of his writing process. Though these variations and digressions seem to
be presented in a tongue in cheek and ironic style, I do think that they are
meant to say something about writing. Before reading the above, I thought that
I was the only one that thought that sometimes too much suspense can actually
mar a story that includes very strong and aesthetically pleasing characters.
There is another passage included in the book that once again
cleverly plays this game. At one point, Eleanor is speaking to a much more honorable
love interest, Reverend Francis Arabin. A misunderstanding occurs and Eleanor
is angry, essentially because Arabin does not explain the situation,
Everything would have been
explained, and Eleanor would have gone back to Barchester with a contented
mind. How easily would she have forgiven and …had she but heard the whole truth
from Mr. Arabin. But then where would
have been my novel?
That last line is priceless.
There are many additional examples of all this sprinkled
throughout the narrative.
Without a doubt Trollope’s unconventional twists in his point of
view liven up these novels. I tend to be a hound for innovation and variation
in storytelling as I think that such experiments add diversity and spice to
literature. As I continue to read Trollope I will be persistently watching for
more of these intriguing digressions in his prose.
Towers by Anthony Trollope is the second book in the Chronicles of Barsetshire
series. I found this novel to be one of the most enjoyable that I have ever
read. It is complex in all sorts of ways, masterfully written, has marvelous
characters and, to top it all off, it is very funny.
plot picks up approximately five years since the conclusion of The
again, we get to look into the lives of the various inhabitants of the city of
Barchester. These include the elderly and meek, yet wise and virtuous,
clergyman Septimus Harding, his now widowed daughter, Eleanor Bold, and his overbearing
son-in-law, Archdeacon Grantly.
the beloved bishop of the diocese passes away, a new bishop, Dr. Proudie, is appointed.
Proudie is an extremely weak man who is controlled by two schemers: his hypocritical
and domineering wife, Mrs. Proudie, and his personal minister, the manipulative
and self-serving Mr. Obadiah Slope. Both set their sites on taking power in the
diocese at the expense of the longtime residents and eventually at the expense
of each other. A war of social, political and ecclesiastical maneuvering soon
breaks out between the newcomers and the long-term residents. Eventually, Mrs.
Proudie and Mr. Slope also begin to vie against one another.
Complicating matters is the
return of the Stanhope family to Barchester. Dr. Stanhope is a local clergyman
who has been living in Italy. The Stanhope children are narcissistic, vulgar
and manipulative. Among them are the seductive and calculating Signora Madeline
Vesey Neroni and the flippant, irresponsible Ethelbert "Bertie"
Stanhope. These characters proceed to cause all sorts of strife in Barchester.
found it difficult to decide where to focus in this post, as this novel is so
full of wonderful elements. There is so very much to comment upon here. The aspects
that strike me the most are how well crafted and nuanced several of the characters
are, and just how amusing, even downright funny, this book is.
Trollope seems to better understand
and represent the complexities of life than do all but a small minority
authors. He reflects reality in a way that is amazingly real and multifaceted. When
characters act, it is usually for a variety of mixed motives, ranging from the
noble to the nefarious. Misunderstandings are often infused with some truth.
Situations and people are rarely simplistic.
complexity of the personas that Trollope has created in this work is indeed
impressive. The people he has fashioned here may be the most realistic
fictional characters that I have ever encountered. As in real life, Barchester
is populated with good people, really bad people, and people who are in
between. However, unlike the creations of many authors, the good characters
almost always show some flaws, and the bad characters occasionally show good
traits. The folks who are in the middle are very complicated indeed.
my opinion, Trollope’s in-between characters are the best. Archdeacon Grantly
is a case in point. This man is overbearing, arrogant and often a bully. Yet,
he seems to have a moral core that is real but imperfect. As his father, the
Bishop of Barchester, is on his deathbed, Grantly is indeed distraught.
However, the timing of his father’s death is an issue. Because of an impending
change in government, if the Bishop dies soon, the Archdeacon will likely be
appointed the next Bishop. However, if the old Bishop lives much longer, it is
unlikely that the Archdeacon will ever become Bishop. Situations are rarely
simple in this novel. Muddling this
issue is the fact that the dying Bishop is suffering, so that a reasonable response
from a relative would be a desire for the end to come with some haste.
Archdeacon’s response is similarly complicated,
Nothing could be easier than the
old man's passage from this world to the next. But by no means easy were the
emotions of him who sat there watching. He knew it must be now or never. He was
already over fifty, and there was little chance that his friends who were now
leaving office would soon return to it. No probable British prime minister but
he who was now in, he who was so soon to be out, would think of making a bishop
of Dr. Grandly. Thus he thought long and sadly, in deep silence, and then gazed
at that still living face, and then at last dared to ask himself whether he
really longed for his father's death. The effort was a salutary one, and the
question was answered in a moment. The proud, wishful, worldly man sank on his
knees by the bedside and, taking the bishop's hand within his own, prayed
eagerly that sins might be forgiven him.
book is also very funny and sometimes even hilarious. I found myself laughing out loud on several
occasions. Once again, as in The
Warden I get the sense that the author is
taking the middle ground, even in his humor. Trollope skewers conservatism and
stuffiness as well as liberality and lack of restraint with equal vigor. The wit ranges from the subtle
to the bitingly sarcastic, and occasionally it veers towards the physical.
At one point, Trollope
comments on peoples’ tendency, in times of distress, to find solace from fickle
and untruthful folks in the innocence of babies,
This kind of consolation from the world's deceit is very common. Mothers
obtain it from their children, and men from their dogs. Some men even do so
from their walking-sticks, which is just as rational. How is it that we can
take joy to ourselves in that we are not deceived by those who have not
attained the art to deceive us? In a true man, if such can be found, or a true
woman, much consolation may indeed be taken.
Ironically, I sense that the
above displays an understanding of such refuges that people find, even as such
refuges are being mocked.
There is a lot more here. The
work is full of additional fascinating characters that I have not even
mentioned. It is brimming with themes and insights. It is chock full of
wonderful mythological allusions. The writing style is extremely well crafted
and innovative, a point that I will explore in a separate post.
This is a highly recommended
read for anyone with the slightest inclination toward nineteenth century
English novels. Unless a person were to be completely adverse to that art form,
it is hard to imagine why anyone would not like this book. As someone who insists
upon reading series in order, I would recommend the very worthwhile The
Warden first. I
cannot wait to move on to the later entries in this series.
My commentary on the first book in the Chronicles
of Barsetshire series, The
Warden is here.
My commentary on the third book in the Chronicles of
Barsetshire series, Doctor
Thorne is here.
My commentary on Trollop’s unusual Pont of View